Interview © Metal Hammer 2002
von Jerry Ewing
Fuzz, smoke and overdosing with...
Chris Goss is an amiable gentle giant of a man as he sits in the bar of London's famed Columbia Hotel. So much so that at times you'd be hard pushed to guess that this man is, to all intents and purposes, the godfather of stoner rock. Not only has his hand guided the sound of bands like the now defunct Kyuss, Queens Of The Stone Age, The Flys and Unida, but his own band Masters of Reality have, ever since they released their '88 self-titled debut album, been rightly hailed as serious movers and shakers of the rock underground.
"Now more than ever," he laughs. "It keeps getting more and more as time goes on. When you play underneath the rule game, what do you expect? In a nutshell, that kind of wraps it up.
Sadly Goss is right. In an increasingly sanitised music/market place full of conveyer belt rubbish in whatever genre you care to choose, the Masters of Reality have steadfastly refused to deviate from their own chosen path.
"I understand that niche," says Goss. "I have my own bands that I embrace that most people can't stand to listen to. At the same time, as well as a fucked-up career, I know there's been some really good songs. People will discover them over time."
For Goss it all started in the early 80s, but on a different sonic path to the sound most people associate with Masters of Reality.
"What we were doing in the 80s was fucked up. It was drum machine metal in '82. That's psycho stuff so it's not like I expected a bidding war. We played few and far between too.
Eight years down the line, and Goss and his then band, Tim Harrington (guitar), Googe (bass) and Vinnie Ludovico (drums) finally inked a deal with Rick Rubin's Def American label. The irony of being a band inspired by the likes of Zeppelin, Sabbath and Cream and being on a label best known for rap is not lost on Goss.
"It was weird," he says. "I felt I had been crucified on the misty mountains for years before I met Rubin. I knew the stuff he was getting into like the back of my hand. In one way it was weird to entrust it to a guy who had done Danzig, The Cult and Slayer, but I knew he was doing something twisted to it, drying it up, and that intrigued me."
MastersofReality was critically lauded at a time when thrash metal was in the ascendant, fans finding much to delight in it's dark, powerful yet undeniably traditional grooves.
"We met up at a mutual friend's barbecue," Goss explains. "This guy said we should jam. Ginger just rolled his eyes back thinking it was just some dumbass band, but my friend pushed it. A few days later we had a great jam session with drinks and good weed. It was set up right."
For Goss, a long time Cream fan, it was something of a dream come true.
"I tell you man, Cream set up a lot of people to do what they did. For some reason I wasn't nervous, I just thought it would be fun. And it was fun, I felt like I was seven years old listening to my older brother's LiveCream album."
"It's my favourite package that I've done, from the cover to the music. The first single did really well in the States, and MTV promised us that when it went Top Five it would go on heavy rotation. The single hit Top Five and they didn't add it. It was an out and out lie.
So what was it like, working with a bona fide rock legend?
"When he had a pocket full of cash and was being treated the way he deserved he was wonderful," Goss relates. "Of course he's a wacko, he's a brilliant artist, but when things were good he was cool, but when they got itchy... and Ginger Baker and LA are like vinegar and baking soda. I don't blame him for not going through with it."
Within months of everything coming crashing around him once more, Goss discovered that EMI (Chrysalis' parent label) had failed to pick up on the option on another Masters of Reality album, and as a free agent he went his own way. Not however, into the studio for a new Masters record, but to make a name for himself as a pioneering producer of a new genre.
"I always assumed that I'd be making my own music and that I'd always get back to that and so far I've been blessed," he says. "But working with Kyuss was incredible. The first two records were brilliant experiences. Blues For The Red Sun was laughing for three weeks and Welcome To Sky Valley was laughing until Brant Bjork announced he was leaving. I'm a fan basically. It wasn't about getting some schmuck to thin 'em out, make 'em tune up and write grunge songs. They've all been friends, which can have moments of weirdness, but 99 per cent of the time has been good."
Work with the likes of Kyuss, Queens et al also brought more diverse work with The Cult's Ian Astbury, actor Russell Crowe's 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts and even Stone Temple Pilots. Yet it's the stoner rumble Goss is best known for, despite not being too fond of the tag himself.
"Lyrically Kyuss were evasive and never obvious and that separates them from a lot of the stoner stuff, the Championship Wrestling / cartoon side of it," he explains. "When I was a kid I was a Kiss fan for about a year, until I realised that the river wasn't too deep. I knew I had a hot fish though, in Kyuss. I've been a fan of this music since it was invented. And they swung like motherfuckers."
In '97, Goss was persuaded to bring Masters of Reality out of the garage and dust themselves down for a live show that was recorded for posterity in that year's How High The Moon... Live At The Viper Room. Since then, the band's work rate has gone into overdrive with Welcome To The Western Lodge following two years later, and last year, the quite brilliant Deep In The Hole appearing on the Brownhouse label in Europe and appearing in most magazines annual top album lists.
"I'm on a roll," Goss laughs. "Living in the desert means I've got nothing else to do. And I've been avoiding LA unless I have to work there. The live record acted as the catalyst for all of that."
So what can we expect for the future?
"I'm a weirdo," he smiles "and I make weird rock 'n' roll."